In the wake of the Oscar season this year’s blockbusters (or should that be Brickbusters?) are on the way, starting with The Lego Batman Movie – can it live up to its cinematic legacy…?
It’s been over three years since the original Lego Movie hit cinemas back in 2014 and became a surprise critical success, so it’s little surprise that Warner Bros. have served up a sequel now focusing around Will Arnett’s egotistical take on Batman.
It’s a tall order for Lego to deliver on a fifty-year canon of Batman films and they make the wise decision to serve up the formula from The Lego Movie rather than any kind of simpler Batman story. The premise is simple – when the Joker mounts a plot to prove he is Batman’s greatest villain, the caped crusader must learn that he can’t defeat him alone and open up to his new Bat family.
This kind of moral message has never been as overt in the Batman universe, but it works well in this more family-friendly of recent Batfilms and is a welcome change from last year’s moody miserable mess Batman vs. Superman. More importantly, the film is absolutely brimming with jokes that come thick and fast from start to finish, and while there are a few duds the majority are genuinely funny.
The opening sequence is particularly spectacular, drawing from the plane hijacking in The Dark Knight Rises to deliver a climatic team-up of all Batman’s villains in a hilarious homage. Batman and Joker are soon set up as the unlikely romcom couple, as the Joker just wants Batman to say ‘I hate you.’ But Batman can’t make that kind of commitment because he’s still stinging from the loss of his parents and so tries to shut everyone away.
It’s a story that’s actually close in line with Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham Knight, which also saw Batman make a series of bad decisions in an effort to protect those around him, and in particular tastefully sets up a grandfather/father/son dynamic between Alfred, Batman and Robin that shouldn’t work but totally does. Ralph Fiennes’ grounded caring Alfred and Michael Cera’s wide-eyed optimistic Robin both find great spins on these iconic characters.
Rosario Dawson completes the Bat Family as Barbara Gordon, a character experiencing increasing popularity in the Batscene, who here replaces her father James Gordon as commissioner. She’s a strong smart foil to Arnett’s insensitive emotional Batman. The film doesn’t attempt to do anything new with Zach Galifianakis’ Joker, but perhaps that’s a smart move in the perpetual shadow of Heath Ledger.
Much like in The Lego Movie, it’s the huge ensemble that really enrich and make this film so worthwhile, whether it’s the best friend co-pilots of MacGuffin Airlines, a Tom Hardy style Bane or even some great cameos from other franchises. The Lego Batman Movie doesn’t feel just like a parade of jokes because it’s all tied together by a coherent world and a strong simple plot line at its core.
Which is just like The Lego Movie. In many ways this is more of the same, and it shares nearly all of the strengths of The Lego Movie, even if this is now a Batman film as well. But it’s slightly more familiar and doesn’t feel quite as fresh, and in the lengthy action-filled climax in particular the cracks begin to show both literally and figuratively.
It may be worth a comparison to last year’s Deadpool – a thoroughly enjoying flick packed with jokes that promised a film that would be subversive and self-reflexive, yet never deviated from a familiar plot progression. The Lego Batman Movie is the same in shaking up the Batman formula but never hits a moment as special and unique as The Lego Movie had.
It’s hard to imagine anyone not having a real riot with The Lego Batman Movie, and it is totally worthy of time and attention but it’s not a revelation. It’s a rollercoaster ride of sparkly visuals and cracking jokes that has the distinction of really having universal appeal. But there’s no nuance here. It’s for everyone. And that’s a double-edged sword.
Fortunately, it’s a ride well-worth taking.
Score: About ten million dollars higher than Fifty Shades Darker